Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Anime review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
A retelling of the smash hit 2004 Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood sticks close to the original manga story as it weaves together the story of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two young alchemists who seek to restore their original bodies. After losing their mother, the two brothers attempted the ultimate taboo among alchemists - human transmutation. The rules of equivalent exchange were not obeyed, as there was nothing to account for a soul, and in turn Edward lost an arm and a leg while Alphonse lost his entire body. Quick to react, Edward bonded his brother's soul to a nearby suit of armor. Thereafter, the Elric brothers devoted themselves entirely to researching the many forms of alchemy until Edward was accepted into the Amestrian military as the youngest State Alchemist in history.
Their search for answers leads the Elric brothers all across the country of Amestris, and they encounter the hardened soldiers of the Briggs Wall, chimeras, and a prince from the foreign land of Xing. But lurking in the shadows are the Homunculus, artificial humans who incite violence among humans and have a deep-seated interest in Edward's prowess as an alchemist. Also of great importance is Colonel Roy Mutang's plan to change the Amestrian government from the inside out, after the horrors he witnessed years ago in the country of Ishval - horrors which led the Ishvalan exile scar to hunt down and kill State Alchemists one by one. Each step Ed and Alphonse take toward reclaiming what was lost peels back another layer of the full story, and a wide variety of characters are introduced - nearly just as many friendly to their cause as those who seek to hinder the Elric brothers' progress. While not as frequent but equally important, the story does break away from time to time to explore a deeper meaning behind the machinations of Amestris and the world around it, focusing on topics like the hidden truths of alchemy and loopholes in the theory of equivalent exchange.
The first dozen episodes are quite fast-paced, and it seems that Studio Bones approached this new introductory story arc under the assumption that viewers would be familiar with either the original anime or manga version. Because of this, there are a few plot points that are not greatly expanded upon, and a handful of characters, such as Greed, are not explored as in-depth as in the previous anime. Some of these points are revisited later in the series however. While those early episodes do seem to move along at a semi-breakneck pace, the rest slow down to allow for better character and plot development, and the pacing from then on out is as close to perfect as one could hope.
There are a lot of characters that earn screen time between the start of the series and its conclusion. While certain characters play roles that are clearly more significant to the grand story, everyone from the main cast down to the minor roles sees a satisfying development. Ed and Al are always at the center of the story, but much of what shapes and changes them plays out gradually over the entire sixty-four episode run. Other characters, like the Homunculus Pride, have a significantly smaller time frame to be defined in, but Studio Bones does well to make practically every one of them concrete, entertaining, and enjoyable. And even though there are a handful of characters that only appear once or twice, there isn't a single moment wasted on filler material.
At the center of the mysteries of the Homunculus sits Father. While his involvement with the series' events come to light very gradually, his presence is felt from the very first episode. His role as one of the primary villains adds a degree of uncertainty and suspense. He manages to avoid the general cliches of anime villainy, save for a few points in the latter episodes where he takes time to monologue.
As a whole, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood takes on a darker tone than the 2004 anime. The first season of the previous anime was pretty lighthearted, while the second season dug deeper into the mysteries of the Homunculus and set a darker tone as a result. There are moments where the newer anime takes a break from its serious routine for someone to poke fun at Ed's short stature or mistake Alphonse for the Fullmetal Alchemist due to his body being a suit of armor. But the atmosphere in Brotherhood is quite consistent throughout.
The soundtrack is downright epic. There are so many tunes to fit each and every atmosphere, from scenes of alchemic battle to the moments where Ed and Al have to remind each other what they really want before picking themselves back up from a setback. The animation style is only slightly different than it was in the 2004 anime, with softer outlines to character models. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and the lighting effects are generally impressive. There is an occasional shift in animation style when a goofy or lighthearted moment occurs, but the quality is consistent throughout, with a slight improvement during the last few episodes that borders on theatrical release quality.
In an age where contemporary fantasy epics are constantly compared and contrasted with Harry Potter, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood stands strong against such a wildly popular and critically acclaimed modern classic. Brotherhood manages to perfectly blend action elements with a very human tale about the Elric brothers. There are genuinely emotional moments where viewers will feel a strong connection to Edward, Alphonse, Winry, or any other of the number of brilliantly molded characters. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a phenomenal tale for viewers all ages - one that transcends the stereotypes of fantasy fiction and instead sets the bar up another notch for the competition. It is without a doubt one of the greatest fantasy stories crafted in any entertainment medium.
My rating: 10 (out of 10)